Do you have a love for the law, but no deep desire to practice or appear in court? Do you find generating solutions to complex problems incredibly satisfying? Are you an excellent communicator? You may want to consider a career as a legal consultant.
Whether you’re exploring potential legal career paths for the future or you’re a practicing attorney considering a pivot, becoming a legal consultant could be right for you.
From the essential skills and qualifications you need to the key benefits of being a legal consultant, read on to learn everything you need to know about a career in legal consulting.
What is a legal consultant?
A legal consultant is a skilled legal professional who offers advice and strategic guidance on a wide range of legal matters. While legal consultants do not represent clients in court (as a lawyer would), they do help clients to make sound legal decisions, understand complex legal issues, and ensure compliance with the law.
Legal consultants work for clients that need legal advice (including individuals, businesses, and organizations) to offer legal insight and guidance with complex matters in areas like:
- Business law: For advice on everything from contracts to intellectual property for small- and medium-sized businesses, startups, and corporations.
- Financial services: For guidance on regulatory compliance matters, financial transactions, and risk management.
- Real estate: For advice on matters related to real estate development, property transactions, and lease negotiations.
- Health care: For guidance on healthcare contracts, preventing healthcare fraud, and regulatory compliance issues.
- Foreign affairs: For advice related to international relations, such as negotiating treaties, dispute resolution, and advising on human rights issues.
The difference between a legal consultant and a lawyer
Legal consultants and lawyers both use legal knowledge to assist clients with legal issues, but the two roles are different when it comes to how and when they work with clients, the services they provide, and their qualifications. Specifically, legal consultants primarily serve as legal advisors, but do not represent clients in court or offer litigation services as lawyers would.
With that said, many lawyers are also legal consultants—though a legal consultant can’t serve as a lawyer unless they’ve also completed the necessary requirements to qualify as a lawyer, like passing their state bar exam, being admitted to the bar, and being licensed to practice law.
The exact qualifications necessary for a legal consultant vary depending on factors like jurisdiction and the types of services they provide. This means that it’s important to research and abide by the rules and regulations that apply to you and your situation. However, most legal consultants are not required to be admitted to their state bar or be licensed to practice law.
So, if you want to become a legal consultant, you generally have two options. You can:
- Become a lawyer first, and then transition into a career as legal consultant, or
- Just become a legal consultant without ever becoming a lawyer.
With that said, if you’re just beginning to explore career paths in the legal industry, you’ll want to check out our guide to becoming a lawyer in a specialized practice area, as well as our guide to becoming a paralegal.
Benefits of becoming a legal consultant
If you have a strong aptitude for the law and you’re skilled at communication and offering legal advice, a career in legal consulting offers many benefits that you may not find practicing law as an attorney. These may include:
- Increased time and schedule flexibility. If the reality of long lawyer working hours is a drawback to practicing law, then legal consulting may appeal to you. Whether you work on short-term projects at a consulting firm or you’re a solo practitioner with control over how many clients and hours you take on, legal consulting often comes with a degree of schedule flexibility. It may also be easier to find options for part-time work as a legal consultant.
- No court time. If you love the law but hate the stress of court appearances, then legal consulting offers the best of both worlds.
- Variety. While you may want to focus on advising clients in a specific area, as a consultant, you have the flexibility to work with clients on a wide range of legal issues and help solve diverse legal problems.
Of course, as with any career, there are some challenges that come with a career in legal consulting. While the increased flexibility can be helpful for work-life balance, it can also make for uncertain workloads and a more variable income.
How to become a legal consultant
While the scope of services that a lawyer and legal consultant provide are different, both roles require legal expertise in order to effectively and ethically serve their clients’ needs. With this in mind, the path to becoming a legal consultant is quite similar to the road you’d travel to become a lawyer.
Here are the key steps you’ll need to take to become a legal consultant:
Get your BA
Just like with becoming a lawyer, law school is a key step in the journey towards becoming a legal consultant—and, in most cases, you need a bachelor’s degree in order to go to law school.
If you’re considering an undergraduate degree as your first step towards law school and legal consulting, you may be wondering what you should study. The good news is that there’s no one set major for an undergraduate who is also an aspiring law student. You can study anything that you like, though a focus on subjects that may help prepare you for studying law in the future—such as criminal justice, political science, or history—are good bets.
No matter what you major in, you can start preparing for your legal consulting career as an undergraduate. Your best strategies for this? Keep your GPA high and actively look for opportunities to gain as much legal-related experience as possible.
You can gain experience through:
- Volunteer work
- Extracurricular activities
- Joining student organizations
Take the LSAT
In order to get into law school, you need to take—and score well on—the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
The LSAT, which is notoriously challenging, tests for the skills you’ll need to succeed in law school and your legal career, such as reading comprehension, writing skills, and reasoning ability.
There are multiple LSAT exam dates to choose from throughout the year, but you need to register in advance, so be sure to research the best testing dates and formats for your situation.
Complete law school
Once you have your BA, you’ve taken your LSAT, and you’ve been admitted to law school, the next step is to actually complete law school and earn your law degree, or Juris Doctorate (JD). Earning your JD typically takes three years.
With a career in legal consulting in mind, a law school education is your opportunity to gain legal knowledge and skills.
Just as with your undergraduate degree, law school is an excellent time to take advantage of internships to gain professional experience that will help your legal career down the line.
Consider taking the bar exam
The bar exam is a key step that differentiates legal consultants and lawyers.
While lawyers must pass their state bar exam in order to be admitted to their state bar and practice law, passing the bar is not necessarily a requirement for legal consultants (depending on the rules and regulations for your jurisdiction).
So why would you want to consider taking the bar exam if your ultimate career goal is legal consulting?
There are few reasons why it may be helpful for legal consultants:
- You want to practice law first before you focus on legal consulting. Working as a lawyer for a short time can help you build your professional skills and experience, and it may enhance your credibility as a legal consultant.
- You want to offer a wider range of services. If you’re a licensed lawyer in addition to a legal consultant, you may be able to offer more legal services to your clients.
- You want to have more career options. Even if your goal is consulting, you’ve already done the hard work of completing law school. Passing the bar exam gives you the flexibility to become a lawyer if you want to. And, it may just be fulfilling to close the loop on your law school journey by taking the bar exam.
If you decide to take the bar exam, our guide to studying for the bar exam on your own is a helpful resource.
As with any career path, you may not step into a legal consultant role the moment you graduate. If you want to pick up related legal work to build your experience first, without becoming a lawyer, consider seeking opportunities such as:
- Legal internships
- Volunteer legal work
- Industry-specific work (for example, if your goal is to be a legal consultant for real estate, consider working in the real estate industry)
- Legal support or legal research roles
Whether you’re looking for a full-time consulting role or you are aiming to help clients on a project basis, having a base of relevant legal work and experience on your resume can help you stand out in a positive way.
Get comfortable with legal technology
Whether you’re a lawyer or a legal consultant, being comfortable and proficient in today’s legal technology is a must for boosting your hireability and efficiency as a legal professional. This means staying informed on the latest tech trends in the legal industry (such as AI for lawyers) as well as learning how to use legal tech tools like Clio.
As Robert Jewett, Solo Attorney at Robert Jewett Law PLLC, explains, embracing Clio’s client intake solution improved more than just his intake process.
“…I was striving for efficiency when it came to the intake process,” Jewett said. “How could I move a potential client to an engaged client most efficiently? It’s not just about my time but it’s also about making the experience positive for my potential clients. I wanted to maximize my ability to do the work that only I can do. Things that can be automated really need to be automated.”
If you’re a law student, you can get comfortable legal technology early on—Clio’s Academic Access Program provides free Clio access to students.
Top skills for legal consultants
What skills do you need to be an effective legal consultant? While the legal knowledge and experience you gain in law school are essential for a legal consultant, there are also other skills that the most successful legal consultants—and lawyers—tend to master that can help you successfully work with and advise clients. These skills include the following:
- Attention to detail
- Research and analysis
- Business sense
- Creative problem solving: critical thinking skills, assessing situations
To learn more about how to embrace and develop these skills, read our post on the top seven skills for lawyers.
Final notes on becoming a legal consultant
Whether you’re already a lawyer or you’re just starting your journey towards becoming a legal professional, a career in legal consulting is a rewarding way to put your legal aptitude and communication skills to work.
While you won’t argue on behalf of clients in court, as a legal consultant you’ll give clients valuable guidance and legal advice as part of an exceptional client experience.
Regardless of where you currently are on the path towards legal consulting, there are steps you can take right now to gain valuable experience and skills to support success in your future career. If you’re an undergraduate, for example, this could mean volunteering or joining relevant student organizations. Or, if you’re a law student, getting comfortable with using legal technology now can give you a leg up when you start your career.
Here, Clio can help. Sign up for Clio’s Academic Access Program for free, so you can learn how to succeed at the business of law now.